Top of the Lake

Top of the Lake

With cottage chemical industries, underground bunkers, broken heroes, lost souls, power, corruption and lies, Jane Campion’s Top of the Lake with an excellent lead performance by Elisabeth Moss was an inspired commission by the BBC.

An outsider coming into a desolate setting and trying to solve a mystery and fight for justice amidst secrets, corruption, crime and unique characters gave Top of the Lake the feel of a modern day merger between Twin Peaks and The Wicker Man.

Even the end credits seem to be a reference to David Lynch’s landmark TV drama and with slightly offbeat encounters, such as the opening to episode two which ends in an encounter in a room above the local pub timed on the stopwatch of an i-phone, Top of the Lake does its best not to be a run-of-the-mill cop who-done-it.

The cinematography and Jane Campion’s direction makes the New Zealand landscape a cast member and she throws in set-pieces with perfectly placed incidental music, but aside from the visual aesthetics and idiosyncratic scenes what took Top of the Lake to another level was a stunning lead performance from Elisabeth Moss, who made the character Robin Griffin not only believable in a story that at times stretches plausibility for the sake of the plot, but her own. Just as she brought Zoey Bartlett and Peggy Olson to life in The West Wing and Mad Men respectively, Robin becomes real and fully dimensional with the viewer joining her until the final leg of her journey when it sees what she sees and things slot into place.

There were clues earlier on to the mystery and when the final resolution comes it allows previous events to linger in the mind of the viewer by which time the story has been told. And in just six one-hour episodes that were clearly structured and plotted well in advance there is no need for as many red herrings as The Killing which often looked to change direction to side step being second guessed.

Peter Mullen, as in Tyrannasaur, excels at being an angry old man, but this time with power and a town in his hand, controlled by fear, menace and dirty money. As Matt Mitcham he self-harms with demonic attitude, but unlike the everyday like-minded losers we see regularly in cities that are compelled to keep ordering and drinking shots, his route to fruitless pain is reached though beating himself with a belt on his mother’s grave. Each to their own.

Like David Brent from ‘The Office’, Matt Mitcham loves his mum but is clearly a misogynist. His counterpart, GJ, played by a well disguised Holly Hunter, has many of Mitcham’s characteristics, but her anger is largely hidden, as she builds an empire of a different sort that appears to be a communal safehouse for women on his land. Called Paradise it is a contrast to the boys clubs of the police rooms, the one-town pub and Mitcham’s own kingdom.

Paradise is a home for lost souls and victims of abuse, and with the broken heroes and corrupting power it is what Top of the Lake is all about. Exactly the sort of drama the BBC should be commissioning and broadcasting on primetime and like a good film, worth a second watch.


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